Return to Transcripts main page


Interview with Doug Elmendorf; Kremlin Spokesman Says Kremlin Being Demonized Over U.S.; Elections; ISIS Destroys Museum's Priceless Artifacts as Seen in ISIS Video; Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired March 13, 2017 - 10:30   ET


[10:30:02] DOUG ELMENDORF, FORMER DIRECTOR, CONGRESSIONAL BUDGET OFFICE: Well, first of all, those of us who have health insurance should be careful about saying to those who don't, oh, don't worry, it's fine for you not to have health insurance. For lots and lots of people, having health insurance is very important. I think we should take any decline in the number of people with health insurance very seriously.

And the main reason you'll see a decline under this legislation is the withdrawal of subsidies for some people. It's the shift in the subsidy schedule that's the big problem. And that's not people who are better off. That's people who are not getting the support and won't be able to go buy health insurance or aren't getting the support and will have to put more of their own pockets to go and buy health insurance. Those folks are going to be worse off.

There's nothing else in the legislation that particularly improves the quality of care or brings down the price of care very much. You may end up with health insurance that covers less with larger deductibles and co-payments. So the price of insurance can be reduced by that sort of change in insurance policy. But the total cost of going to get health care, which is not just insurance premium but also any deductibles or co-payments, isn't going to be down substantially under this legislation.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, you know, it certainly isn't for some people, some people will lose out. There are others in some income brackets and some geographic locations who could stand to gain, could get more money to put toward their health care but it does vary. And to go back to what the secretary of HHS said, there will be people who lose their insurance and I do understand your point that it's hard to make the case that if you lose your insurance you're not worse off financially.

Want to shift gears to a different number, that is in the news. The unemployment number, good jobs numbers came out last week. I mean, full stop. The jobs numbers were good, 235,000 jobs created.


BERMAN: The unemployment rate down to 4.7 percent. The director of OMB, the Office of Management and Budget, Mick Mulvaney, he said something interesting, though, about the way that those that.


MICK MULVANEY, DIRECTOR, OFFICE OF MANAGEMENT AND BUDGET: We thought for a long time, I did, that the Obama administration was manipulating the numbers in terms of the number of people in the workforce to make the unemployment rate, that percentage rate, looks smaller than it actually was. And we used to tell people back home, the only thing you should really look at number of jobs created. And as long as that number is above 250,000, the economy is going extraordinarily well. And that was the number we hit last week.


BERMAN: Now he's not arguing that the underemployment rate is a better gauge than the unemployment rate. He is actually making the case that the Obama administration manipulated the numbers somehow to make the unemployment rate look better. Did you see any evidence of that when you were running the CBO?

ELMENDORF: No. That is a shocking accusation by an OMB director or by any public leader. There is no evidence for that whatsoever. The OMB director has offered no evidence for that whatsoever. I think he should retract that comment. That assertion of dishonesty on the part of civil servants who are working very hard to produce accurate information every month is damaging to our country.

BERMAN: And the unemployment rate comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, correct?

ELMENDORF: Yes, exactly. And it's calculated according to a set of formulas, a process for collecting data that has been in place for years. And the production of those numbers is not affected by who is in political power. It's done by the best judgment of the civil servants doing that work. And to attack that work or to claim it's been affected by political pressure is really an unreasonable comment, again, for which there's no evidence been provided whatsoever.

BERMAN: All right. Doug Elmendorf, thanks so much for being with us. Appreciate it.

ELMENDORF: Happy to be here. Thank you.

BERMAN: All right. And of course CNN has an exclusive health care town hall with Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price. That airs Wednesday at 9:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN.

Russia is firing back over accusations that it meddled in the U.S. election. And now the Kremlin is suggesting its ambassador did just meet with Trump campaign officials.


[10:38:20] BERMAN: This morning Russia says it was impossible for that country to interfere with the U.S. election. This is what Vladimir Putin's long-time aide and spokesman told our own Fareed Zakaria.


DMITRY PESKOV, KREMLIN SPOKESMAN: The answer is very simple. No. The answer is very simple. No. And the fact that Russia is being demonized in that sense comes very strange to us. And we are really sorry about that because this is -- the whole situation takes us from -- takes us away from the perspective of getting our relationship to a better condition.


BERMAN: Sixteen U.S. intelligence agencies say the opposite. We want to discuss this with the host of CNN's "FAREED ZAKARIA, GPS," Fareed Zakaria, who's also had a special on this which we'll tell you about in a little bit.

Fareed, you know, how do you think Russia and Vladimir Putin, how do you think at this point they are viewing the Trump administration?

FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST, FAREED ZAKARIA GPS: Well, I think that there is a change, actually. The Russians began very favorable. So when Trump was elected, they literally popped champagne in the Russian parliament. They had people raising toasts in Russia, it was wall-to- wall coverage on Russia TV, which is state-controlled or state- dominated, I should say.

Now over the last week or two of Russia watchers who, you know, watch the Russian television and who have observed kind of closely say they've gone quiet on Trump, because they're now worried that the fact that Russia so obviously had a favorite is rebounding against them, and that it's hemming Trump in. So they don't want to create the impression that they're so happy about it because they see that as perhaps boxing Donald Trump in. So, you know, they may have gotten more than they bargained for.

[10:40:06] BERMAN: That's interesting. That's a change happening right now if you follow this Russian media.

All right. One certain Russian, Russian official who has been in the news an awful lot is the Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak, who had a lot of meetings it turns out with a lot of Americans, a lot of Americans pretty closely associated with Donald Trump including the attorney general -- now Attorney General Jeff Sessions, including Mike Flynn, and he had conversations with Mike Flynn that Mike Flynn then didn't tell Mike Pence about that got Mike Flynn fired roughly.

You asked -- you asked this Russian official about Kislyak. I want to listen to what he said.

ZAKARIA: Sure. Sure.


ZAKARIA: So what was it that the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, was talking to so many of Donald Trump's associates about? PESKOV: This is his job. He was talking about bilateral relations.

He was talking about what is going on in the United States so we have a better understanding in Moscow. This is what is being performed by every ambassador of Russia abroad, every ambassador of the United States abroad, including in Moscow, because the more the ambassador talks to people in his country of residence, the better he does.

ZAKARIA: Did he have similar meetings with Clinton campaign officials? Because I don't know of any.

PESKOV: Well, if you look at some people connected with Hillary Clinton during her campaign, you would probably see that he had lots of meetings of that kind. But there were no meetings about election -- electoral process. There was -- in no way should it be percepted as interference in electoral process.


BERMAN: So this guy is saying that there were meetings with people connected to Hillary Clinton. What meetings? How significant? Was he willing to, you know, show evidence?

ZAKARIA: No. And as you can tell, he was a little caught off guard there. And I've tried to do a little work, I'm still doing some. As you pointed out, Kislyak met with Jeff Sessions, who was essentially the senior most surrogate, the first senator to support Donald Trump.

BERMAN: And for a while, the only senator.

ZAKARIA: And with Mike Flynn, who was essentially Trump's national security adviser. These are about the two most important people you could meet in the Trump campaign. Those two people in the Clinton campaign would be, I don't know, John Podesta and Jake Sullivan. I have not seen, and I'm trying to confirm, but I don't think Kislyak talked to them.

Now if what you mean is if Kislyak talked to some Democrats who are supporting Hillary Clinton, that would be the whole Democratic Party, so maybe. But it certainly doesn't seem that there was a pattern of contacts with these very high level Russian -- Trump officials that the Russians had.

BERMAN: And more to come, maybe, as we look into that.

All right. Fareed, the very title of your special is "THE MOST POWERFUL MAN IN THE WORLD." Congressman Eric Swalwell, a Democrat from California. He picked up on that. He was saying, well, wait a second, this used to be the president of the United States. Now there's someone in this special telling you that's what Vladimir Putin wants to be known as.

ZAKARIA: We don't -- I don't mean it in the partisan sense. I actually mean it in a slightly different sense, which is the most powerful man in the world will be a leader of a country that is powerful, but these aren't just how powerful the country is. Of course America is more powerful than Russia, but how much power the leader has to exercise the power of his country in a totally unconstrained, unchecked manner. And if you think about it, as Donald Trump is discovering, the American president faces lots of checks and balances, lots of constraints on his power.

Putin, 17 years in power, has built what he calls a vertical of power, which is utterly unimpeded authority to do what he wants, including interfere in other countries' electoral processes. That's why I would argue he's the most powerful man in the world. And by the way, "Forbes" just came out with this ranking for what it's worth and Donald Trump is number two. I think the Chinese president is number three. Vladimir Putin is number one on their list as well.

BERMAN: All right. Fareed Zakaria, the special is titled "THE MOST POWERFUL MAN IN THE WORLD." It airs tonight at 9:00 Eastern right here on CNN.

All right. The calendar says that it's just about spring. The pictures, the weather forecast, it says anything but. There is a blizzard coming, folks. 95 million Americans in its path. You will want to hear this forecast, coming up.


[10:49:00] BERMAN: All right. Take a good look at this because it's coming for you. 95 million of you. A blizzard headed to the northeast. It could dump more than a foot of snow, big enough, bad enough that it blew Chad Myers all the way up here to our set.

Chad, what are we expecting?


[10:51:47] BERMAN: Worried about power being knocked out to millions of people up here.

Chad Myers, great to have you with us. We will talk to you a lot tomorrow. Thank you, sir.


BERMAN: All right. ISIS devastated Mosul's museum. Or did it? Why they might not have done as much damage as they wanted to. A live report ahead.


[10:56:17] BERMAN: Iraqi forces now claim they've taken back more than half of western Mosul from ISIS. About 800,000 civilians are caught in the middle of this battle. Meantime, ISIS is also targeting some of the city's most priceless artifacts.

You can see these fighters going on this rampage through Mosul's museum.

CNN's Ben Wedeman, he had a chance to walk through that museum yesterday in Mosul. He joins us now to give us a sense of what he saw -- Ben.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John, we were there yesterday. It's still very close to the front lines. We heard a lot of incoming mortar rounds while we were there. But yes, it's now firmly in Iraqi government hands.

Now what is interesting is that ISIS put out this video in February 2015 with their members smashing those statues with sledge hammers, jack hammers, toppling them over. But the jokes on them. Many of those statues were cheap plaster replicas of the real things because in the beginning of the 2014 that museum was set for renovation, so 1,700 out of the total of 2,200 items in the collection were moved to Baghdad. And so they did manage of course to break up some of the bigger statues. But much of the collection was saved from their madness -- John.

BERMAN: Again we're talking about thousands of years of history in and around Mosul. So that museum is so important to the entire world.

Now, Ben, you and your producers, you had a chance to go inside western Mosul also beyond just the museum and capture some images of your own. What did you see?

WEDEMAN: Well, we saw some people who actually were able to stay in their homes while the battle raged around them. We spoke to one mother who she and her family huddled in their basement for 16 days. All they were able to eat was cold porridge made out of flour and water. She gave her children sleeping pills to make them sleep through the ordeal. But they are staying in their homes. So there are people who have managed to stick it out despite -- I mean, right in front of her house, in fact, there was a massive crater where it appears coalition air strikes hit some ISIS cars.

So they miraculously survived and are staying in their homes. In other areas, we spoke to people who had gotten out of the city, much- relieved to be in safe territory. We spoke to one elderly woman who was enjoying cigarette after cigarette, chain smoking. She told us that under ISIS, that one cigarette was a dollar apiece. And she said they're complete hypocrites. She said that they will come, that, you know, they drink in private, they take drugs in private, but then she said that they come to you and say, God said this and Muhammad said that.

She described them as utter scum of the earth and complete hypocrites. She was one lady who despite living under 2 1/2 years of ISIS still had a lot of spunk in her -- John.

BERMAN: All right, Ben Wedeman for us inside Iraq, having just returned from Mosul. The battle continues to rage there with so many people still caught in the crossfire. Ben, thanks to you.

All right. Thank you all so much for joining me today. I'm John Berman. "AT THIS HOUR WITH KATE BOLDUAN" starts right now.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: John Berman, thank you so much.

Hello, everybody. I'm Kate Bolduan. Put up or shut up.